On Common Ground: Number 9, Fall 2001

A Special Issue on Urban Partnerships

By Thomas R. Whitaker

In Number 8 of On Common Ground, we had focused on the past and the future of school-university partnerships. We had asked what they have accomplished in the fifteen years since Gene I. Maeroff’s report of 1983, School and College: Partnerships in Education, and what challenges now face them. In this Number 9, a special issue on “Urban Partnerships,” we continue that inquiry. We are highlighting here the process and the accomplishments of the National Demonstration Project of the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute. We are also looking forward to the next phase of this national initiative. And we are emphasizing the need for a coast-to-coast network of Teachers Institutes.

During the past four years, with major support from the DeWitt-Wallace Reader’s Digest Fund and additional support from the McCune Charitable Foundation, the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute has established and helped to sustain new Teachers Institutes at four urban sites: Pittsburgh, Houston, Albuquerque, and Santa Ana. Each of these new Teachers Institutes has been constituted by a partnership between one or more institutions of higher education and a school district.

The Pittsburgh Teachers Institute was established through a three-way partnership of Chatham College, Carnegie Mellon University, and the Pittsburgh Public Schools. The Houston Teachers Institute was established through a partnership between the University of Houston and the Houston Independent School District; the Albuquerque Teachers Institute through a partnership between the University of New Mexico and the Albuquerque Public Schools; and the UCI-Santa Ana Teachers Institute through a partnership between the University of California, Irvine, and the Santa Ana Unified School District. Each of these Teachers Institutes is now completing its third year of operation, having developed significant groups of teacher-participants and of seminar leaders from the university or college faculty, many of whom are active in steering its course. And each has been offering yearly seminars in which teachers study topics that respond to their expressed needs and write curriculum units designed for use in their own classrooms.

As this phase of the national initiative comes to a close, the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute looks forward to a second phase that may establish as many as 45 new Teachers Institutes. We envision this phase as beginning with two years of self-assessment and preparation by the five existing Teachers Institutes. During those two years the new Teachers Institutes would ascertain the most appropriate ways of attaining systemic impact within their own districts, regions, or states, and the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute would be gearing up for its role as a primary agent in the plans for expansion.

We envision then a twelve-year period during which, with the help of those existing Teachers Institutes that wish to collaborate, we would establish additional Teachers Institutes through processes like those used in the National Demonstration Project. Those processes would again include Planning and Implementation Grants, July “Intensives” in New Haven with National Seminars in which teachers from various sites would participate, and National Conferences and other means of communication among the Teachers Institutes. We hope that the new Teachers Institutes will include participation by traditionally Black institutions of higher education. And we hope that they can be located in sites across the nation that will maximize their potential impact upon state and national educational policy. Funding is now being sought for this second phase of the national initiative.

Indeed, we include here detailed accounts of other partnerships that are already addressing certain items on the reform agenda. John Carlos Rowe describes a project at the University of California, Irvine, that brings together high-school, community college, four-year college, and university teachers in Southern California to do "collaborative research" that constitutes "a cross between teaching and research" as traditionally understood. Arnold Weinstein describes a project at Brown University that brings together teams of university and school teachers from across the nation to participate in, and to adapt for their own sites, interdisciplinary courses that will involve high-school and university collaboration. As Richard A. Donovan reports, the Urban Partnership Program—which has sponsored conferences on curriculum in Virginia, New York, California, and New Jersey—has now been linking community groups and higher education in South Africa. And Peter Herndon and Jean Sutherland make clear how they have strengthened their teaching and discovered new curricular possibilities through the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute.

The Essays: Some Connections

Finally, Manuel N. Gómez summarizes where we are now, using as "a partial basis for assessment over twenty years of experience in collaboration." Gómez calls for "more rigorous philosophical scrutiny of the relationship among partnership, education, and democracy" in order to produce "more profound systemic change." And he concludes that "without partnership the promise of democratic education is certain to remain only that."

The Images: Some Perspectives

Rod Paige, the United States Secretary of Education, leads off by asking: “Does American know how to teach?” He is struck by the fact that in our major cities “world-class colleges and universities” are “sharing neighborhoods with many of our most dangerous and under-performing schools.” He therefore challenges more colleges and universities to establish partnerships with school districts. “They can help teachers develop curricula,” he says, “offer school access to their facilities, and help mismanaged schools improve their management.” He tells us that every “great university should be linked to its surrounding schools by a thriving and many-tiered partnership.”

President Barazzone outlines from the perspective of the institutions of higher education the process of collaboration and its historical bases. She explains in some detail the concerns over priorities and funding, and the ways in which those concerns have been met. Faison emphasizes the state and local control of the public schools and the national recognition that we must work toward higher achievement levels in those schools. She tells how the Pittsburgh Board of Education has grappled with this problem, how the state has given new impetus to professional development and the Teachers Institute has become an approved provider, and how the new superintendent is forwarding the district’s agenda.We continue with an essay by Owen Lopez, Executive Director of the McCune Charitable Foundation. Lopez describes at some length the difficulties under which public education must labor in New Mexico. Even though almost 50% of the state budget is allocated to public education, he says, “because of the low wage scale it is difficult, if not impossible, to attract qualified teachers from outside New Mexico.” But he adds that “Low salary levels are probably not the greatest obstacles to attracting qualified teachers; bureaucratic red tape and lack of institutional support are the primary culprits.” The McCune Charitable Foundation has therefore decided that it must “be supportive of teachers in ways other than financial.” Lopez then describes the steps through which the Foundation came to support the National Demonstration Project. “It is our belief,” he says, that exposure of the APS teachers to advanced state-of-the-art concepts in each of their curriculum areas will provide the kind of nurturing support that we have been so often told is lacking.” And it is “our hope that renewed, energized teachers will reenter the classrooms to provide those rare opportunities where students can experience truly inspirational teachers.” At the end of his essay, Lopez also comments on the meeting in the fall of 2000 during which the National Advisory Committee and university and school administrators involved in the National Demonstration project discussed with President Richard Levin of Yale both the National Demonstration Project and the proposal for a second phase in the national initiative. In this group, he says, “The overwhelming positive response and obvious need for the continuation and expansion of the partnerships was evident.”

We then turn to essays by Michael Fischer, formerly Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of New Mexico and now the Vice President of Academic Affairs at Trinity University in San Antonio, and William C. Gordon, President of the University of New Mexico. Fischer describes the challenging tasks of bringing the College of Arts and Sciences more fully into the field of professional development and making connections with the teachers and the Albuquerque Public Schools. Collaboration with the College of Education on these tasks also helped to make ongoing funding for the Albuquerque Teachers Institute a top university legislative priority.

President Gordon expresses his surprise at “how enthusiastically our faculty have embraced this concept, and how creative our K-12 teachers have been in taking advantage of the opportunities these faculty have provided.” He describes more fully the multi-disciplinary approach of the seminars, which “are models for how the most basic disciplinary principles can be brought to life by embedding them in an interesting and relevant context.” He speaks, we should note, as a university president who has himself examined the syllabi of seminars and has read curriculum units that the teachers have prepared. These he calls “the most striking outcome of our program.” They are “plans that are intended to raise questions, that are designed to stimulate the natural curiosity that students have, and they are plans that make the process of learning more an adventure than a task.” It is already clear, he says, “that this program generates in our faculty and our teachers a true excitement about teaching and learning.” What are the challenges to be faced by faculty members who lead seminars in a Teachers Institute? How do they convey aspects of their disciplines to the quite varied groups of teachers who are Fellows in the seminars? How do they maintain a genuinely collegial atmosphere? And what do they learn? We explore these questions with the help of faculty members who have led seminars in the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, the Pittsburgh Teachers Institute, the Albuquerque Teachers Institute, and the Irvine-Santa Ana Teachers Institute.

We begin with an essay by Rogers M. Smith, a political scientist who led several seminars on issues of race, immigration, civil rights, and civic education before moving from Yale University to the University of Pennsylvania. He offers the history of his own discovery of the meaning of a Teachers Institute — indeed, his own path toward becoming a “professional educator” — and comments on the challenges and rewards of participating in that effort. He concludes by stating a larger purpose to which every faculty member might well subscribe: “What we must have is a truly interconnected, collegial, and professional system of education, in which teachers from kindergarten through graduate seminars know their subjects well, know how to teach them well, and work together to learn more and do better in both regards. Because I offer Institute seminars, I can now see myself as someone actively engaged in the vital task of trying to bring that system into existence.”

Three other faculty members then describe their first opportunities to lead Institute seminars. Elisabeth Roark of Chatham College tells how an Institute seminar, drawing upon her training as an art historian and as an educator, gave her a chance to bring together the two halves of her professional life. In “American History through Art,” she sought to promote visual literacy, encourage the recognition “that every work of art is a construct behind which exist various agendas,” and explore the city of Pittsburgh “as an urban classroom of sorts, using public works of art accessible to the Fellows and their students.” She describes significant moments in the seminar, shows the Fellows’ responses to this work, and sketches the variety of their curriculum units.

Kate Krause of the University of New Mexico was faced with the challenge of introducing to teachers of various subjects the “formal decision-making tools of economics and game theory.” Her seminar in “Human Decision-Making: Rational and Irrational” offered an opportunity for Fellows to adapt models of decision-making to drama, language arts, creative writing, home economics, and special education. “Each teacher-participant,” she says, “developed a curriculum unit that addressed specific state and district level curriculum standards in innovative ways.” But the benefits transcended the acquisition of “discipline-specific” information. “We met regularly in a cooperative, intensively academic atmosphere to learn more about the human condition. We learned new ways of thinking about ourselves and our own disciplines. We helped each other develop creative ways to teach practical decision-making skills to those who need them most.”

John H. Smith of the University of California, Irvine, describes how he became drawn into participation in the UCI-Santa Ana Teachers Institute by way of a meeting at Irvine and the First Annual Conference at Yale in 1999. In his seminar on “Teaching Religion Critically,” the Fellows addressed “issues involving teaching about religion in public education” and then read from European thinkers “who have re-conceptualized, often critically, the way we approach religion.” The focus, Smith says, was not on how to teach this material in elementary or high school but on “our own intellectual engagement with the ideas.” The curriculum units then related them to a variety of classroom topics, from world civilization to religious tolerance, from Shakespeare to consumerism.

Unlike most professional development programs in which colleges and universities participate, a Teachers Institute depends upon the teachers’ own expression of needs and their acceptance of responsibility for many aspects of the program offered. We conclude, therefore, with essays that focus on various aspects of teacher leadership and teacher participation.

An Institute needs school representatives who work with the director and other teachers to establish the slate of seminars and conduct the applications process. It needs coordinators who can encourage collegiality within a seminar by relieving the seminar leader of some quasi-disciplinary and advisory functions. It may well need a steering committee of teachers to help the director in shaping the Institute’s developing policies. It is important, therefore, to understand how a director can encourage teachers to accept such leadership roles. The first essay in this group, by Paul D. Cooke, Director of the Houston Teachers Institute, lays out the process through which he has been generating teacher leadership in that new Institute. We append to that essay some remarks offered by Arthur K. Smith, President of the University of Houston, as he welcomed Houston public schoolteachers to the Houston Teachers Institute at its Third Annual Convocation on January 16, 2001.

The second and third essays in this group, by Daniel Addis, a high school teacher of English in Houston, and Mel Sanchez, a high school teacher of Spanish in Santa Ana, address the benefits of participation in Teachers Institute seminars. Addis speaks of how the Institute challenges the teachers, spurs them on to intellectual self-improvement, and encourages them to create enriching educational experiences for their students. Sanchez offers his own perspective on that process as he has experienced it in two UCI-Santa Ana seminars, placing it also in the context of other experiences of professional development. The fourth essay, by Jean Sutherland, a New Haven elementary school teacher, returns us to the issues of teacher leadership that Paul Cooke had set forth from a director’s point of view. Sutherland lays out the process of teacher leadership that she worked with in her many years with the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute.

Our centerfold for this issue contains a sampling of the conversations at the Second Annual Conference in October 2000 — an event characterized by what a participant in the First Annual Conference had called “a genuine interest in dialogue that cuts across all potential lines of division (geographical, institutional, professional, disciplinary.)” In “Voices from the National Community,” we listen to a director, several Fellows and faculty members, and a former foundation administrator as they speak of some of the issues that concerned those who were summing up the progress of the National Demonstration Project and looking ahead.

The Images: Some Perspectives

With Rod Paige’s essay, we have placed on the front cover Carmen Lomas Garza’s Cakewalk, an acrylic painting of 1987 included in her bilingual children’s book, Family Pictures/Cuadros de familia. This book contains stories of her childhood in a traditional Hispanic community in south Texas. “Cakewalk,” in her account, “was a game to raise money to send Mexican Americans to the university.” But of course that playful and musical lottery had an earlier origin in African American communities, where it also expressed the desire for a better future. In both theme and design, Cakewalk evokes for us the community vitality in the five Teachers Institutes across the nation and, as we hope, in those yet to be established.

Evoking for us the larger process by which those Teachers Institutes have been and will be established, is the painting we have placed with the first page of this editorial: Jacob Lawrence’s The Studio. In commenting upon his own artistic process, Lawrence here combines a window-image of a cityscape (which is also a painting of the city) and the portrayal of a careful workman who is reconstituting the city in which he lives. The workman is both painter and carpenter, with brushes in his right hand, compasses in his left, and a wood-plane on the railing. As a “builder,” he embodies an important theme for this painter. (The cover for Number 8 of On Common Ground reproduces Lawrence’s Builders — Red and Green Ball.) In fact, the back window of Lawrence’s studio looked out on the blank wall of the neighboring house. He decided to fill in the view with a New York cityscape. For us too, living within the cities of this nation, the urgent task is to transform our “blank walls” into humane cityscapes.

With Esther Barazzone’s and Helen Faison’s essays on the three-way collaboration that has created the Pittsburgh Teachers Institute, we have placed a view of Pittsburgh itself by another painter and carpenter who “re-visioned” the city in which he lived: the immigrant day-laborer and self-taught artist, John Kane. This view of Pittsburgh is effectively about both learning and means of communication. Overlooking Panther Hollow, the viewer’s eye, like the firm truss bridge and the swiftly moving freight train, spans the distance from the Cathedral of Learning at the city’s heart to its outer reaches. With Michael Fischer’s and William C. Gordon’s essays on the establishment of the Albuquerque Teachers Institute we have placed Wayne Thiebaud’s Urban Freeways, which evokes for us something of the challenge provided by making connections in a complex urban community. Thiebaud was born in Mesa, Arizona, but has spent much of his life in California. His later paintings often explore the shapes of urban landscapes.

With the essays on Teachers Institute seminars led by Elisabeth Roark and Kate Krause, we have selected images that relate to the seminar themes. One of the topics in Roark’s seminar on “American History through Art” was “landscape painting and national identity.” Frederic Edwin Church’s Twilight in the Wilderness was one of the paintings they examined. This painting of 1860, with its enigmatic balancing of light and dark, its tangle of blood-red clouds and its blasted trees, has a foreboding intensity. It seems a vision on the eve of disaster — as indeed it was.

Kate Krause’s seminar in “Human Decision-Making” was concerned with balancing gains and losses, theoretic rationality and observed irrationality, the moves and counter-moves of game theory. We have selected here an image of both simple and complex balancing, Winslow Homer’s The See-Saw. This watercolor and gouache is a realistic depiction of rural children playing a game that is based upon principles involving levers, weights, and a fulcrum. But its design is also a lively and subtle balancing of analogous shapes — skewed horizontals, tipsy verticals, triangles upon triangles.

With Paul Cooke’s essay on “Generating Teacher Leadership,” we have placed Charles Sheeler’s brilliant of generated energy, “Conversation: Sky and Earth.” Behind the lines of transmission, we can glimpse the architecture of the dam that makes possible the generating. The essays by teacher-participants invite, we think, a celebration of the coming of light to the city. With Daniel Addis’s essay on “Teachers Enlightening and Renewing Themselves,” we have therefore placed Giacomo Balla’s Street Light, an Italian Futurist image of radiating luminosity.

Finally, we have included in this issue some images that point to the growing national community that is now being shaped and, we hope, will continue to be shaped in the future through Teachers Institutes. With the centerfold selection, “Voices from the National Community,” we have placed a portion of The Block, Romare Bearden’s vision of urban community life. And on the second page of this editorial we have placed Sonny’s Quilt, by the noted African-American artist Faith Ringgold, which provides a lyrical vision of a brightly illuminated George Washington Bridge surmounted. by a Chagall-like saxophonist. It is important, as Secretary Paige has said, “for whole universities . . . to build bridges with the schools in their neighborhoods.”

On the back cover, Joseph Stella, whose Brooklyn Bridge we had earlier printed, now leaves us with Battle of Lights, Coney Island, Mardi Gras, an electric nocturne based on visits to Luna Park, where a quarter of a million electric lights cast their glow over the crowds. Ringgold and Stella celebrate in lively shapes and brilliant lights a future of possibility, which we may hold in the mind’s eye as we work with what is often a darker actuality in our urban schools.

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© 2001 by the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute

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